I haven’t been writing enough lately.
At first, I told myself it was because I had just finished editing Firelock, and I needed a little break. Then it was because it was summer and I had family plans, or because I just got a new puppy, or I was just too tired after being at work all day.
While all of those were true, after a while they sounded like excuses, running too easily through my mind and weighing on my conscience. I feel guilty when I don’t write enough. It’s not rational reaction, maybe, but it happens anyway, because I feel like I’m not doing anything to further my writing goals. I take my goals pretty seriously, I guess.
Determined to get back on track, I reserved a Saturday for myself, making no plans except to prioritize writing above everything else. I accomplished practically nothing in terms of word count, but I sat at my desk with some quiet thinking time and faced a difficult question. Am I suffering from writer’s block? How can that be, after I so arrogantly proclaimed it doesn’t exist?
Well, I think I am, but it doesn’t mean I can’t write. I can still sit down and put sentences together, and some of them are good. It means that I don’t know what to write.
I have a lot of ideas – too many, in fact. That’s the root of my problem. This has been a roller coaster year for me in terms of projects, both new and old. I dropped a medieval historical set in Provence halfway through in order to write Firelock, partly because the new story really grabbed me, and it also seemed like a smarter business decision to write it as a foil to one of my other novels, Red Sky in the Morning, based on submission feedback I was getting. In the middle of writing Firelock, I also started working on a French Revolution story based on a request which ended up not coming to anything, but I still got intrigued by the time period and the story in my head and want to finish it. Through all of this, I still periodically worked on my Belle Époque novel, which I am re-writing for about the third time. I really love the story, but I don’t know exactly what I want the book to be, so it’s going to take a while longer to finish.
I sat down expecting to go back to the medieval story, since it was half finished already. I decided it needed some major plot overhaul, and turned to the French Revolution one instead. When neither story inspired a sudden surge of working energy, I wondered if maybe I needed a new project to get me going again. It takes a lot of discipline to be a writer, and I let some of mine go over the summer. I spent the weekend reading non-fiction books, desperately searching for a new idea to give me that spark of inspiration. The one that seizes you all the way through and fills your head with character’s voices and makes you forget to make dinner until 8 o’clock. The one that changes your life.
I might have found it. I’m still thinking, building the world in my mind. It will take a lot of research, and there’s still the slight problem that I’m not ready to let go of my unfinished stories, still seeing potential in them.
Thankfully, I came upon an inspiring article by Kathleen McCleary in Writer Unboxed, part of which is excerpted here:
“This summer I put aside the 100+ pages of a new novel I’d been working on because it didn’t feel right to me. I haven’t written since. It’s plagued me, this not writing, and opened up the door for many doubts and fears. But then last week I opened a blank document and wrote the first few pages of something new, something that feels intriguing and scary and exciting. I wrote three pages. The next day, I wrote a little more. No one read my pages, or congratulated me on getting back to it, or asked for a synopsis. But the pages are good; it feels like a victory to have survived my dry spell.
So last night, I opened the champagne.”
I think this is happening to me. I still don’t know if my aforementioned uncompleted projects are unfinishable – I’ve let go of stories before, and these two feel different than those. But I took heart in the reminder that this sort of stall in creativity happens to many, if not all, writers, and that it will pass. I’m not ready to open the champagne yet, but I know that soon I will have something to celebrate, even if it’s just one page of writing that makes me forget everything else, taking me fully into that world.